Helping Your Ferret Survive Cold and Flu Season

by amy brockman · 2 comments ===> Tags: , , ,

Ferret under the weather, sick with the flu.

Is your dear, little fuzzy one sniffling, sneezing and looking generally miserable? It’s cold and flu season, and chances are he or she has caught the flu.

Human colds are caused by a different virus than the flu which ferrets don’t catch.  They are, however, very susceptible to most strains of influenza, the same virus which infects humans.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and neither is anyone currently writing for HealthyFerret.com. The information below is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the services of a ferret veterinarian.

Prevent The Spread

Ferrets can catch the flu from humans, humans can also catch it from them, and they can spread it to each other as well.

In humans, cold and flu symptoms can be nearly identical, therefore, if you’ve got symptoms, it may be best to avoid your ferrets for a few days until you’re feeling better. This advice is especially relevant if you have very young ferrets, older ferrets or ferrets with other health conditions who find it harder to fight off the virus.

If no one else is available to take on their care, take precautions while you’re sick to prevent spread of the virus.

  • Wash hands or use a hand sanitizer frequently throughout the day and especially before handling ferret food bowls or water bottles or the ferrets themselves.
  • Use antiseptic wipes or sprays daily to disinfect surfaces which may harbor germs.
  • Avoid close contact with your ferrets until all symptoms are gone.

If your ferret is the first to show symptoms you’ll want to be equally careful to avoid catching it yourself as well as spreading to any other ferrets you may have. If only one ferret is showing symptoms of the flu, you may be able to prevent the others from falling sick if you act quickly.

  • Move the sick ferret to a separate cage, preferably in a separate room.
  • Remove all bedding, wash and replace.
  • Spray all surfaces with an antiseptic spray and wipe down.

Help Make Sick Ferrets Comfortable

Once a ferret has caught the flu all you can do is provide aid and comfort and wait it out.

Flu symptoms in ferrets mimic those in humans – sniffling, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, loss of appetite, fever and chills, fatigue.

Most young and otherwise healthy ferrets will sniffle and lay around feeling poorly for several days, but survive the flu just fine and be back to their normal selves soon. Older ferrets or ferrets with other health conditions may need to be watched more closely.

You can help by making sick ferrets as comfortable as possible:

  • Provide extra blankets to snuggle in as they may be feeling chilled, but don’t overdo it. Ferrets can overheat easily.
  • A humidifier will add moisture to the air and help make breathing easier. (A cool mist humidifier is preferred. Warm air humidifiers work by boiling the water. Because of this the National Institute of Health does not recommended for use around small children (and we can assume ferrets as well).
  • Give NO HUMAN MEDICATIONS intended for cold and flu without speaking to your vet for recommended dosage and product. Some medications are deadly when given to a ferret.

Preventing Dehydration

Any time ferrets are sick, it is important to pay special attention to how much they are eating and drinking and to watch carefully for signs of dehydration. Sick ferrets will often refuse food and water. Dehydration can come on quickly in a ferret and is a very serious condition. The best “cure” is prevention.

There are several things you can to to help your ferret stay hydrated.

  • Provide water in a bowl instead of a bottle. Many ferrets prefer drinking from a bowl and will drink more this way than from a bottle.
  • Cook up a batch of “Duck Soup” or in a pinch feed a jar of meat baby food. (The baby food should be all meat. Gerber Turkey & Turkey Gravy
    for example, but not Turkey and Noodle.) This soft, semi-liquid food is often easier for them to eat than the hard, dry kibble.
  • Thin the Duck Soup or baby food with plenty of water so they’re getting liquids into their system while they eat.
  • Better yet, thin the soup or baby food with Rebound OES. Rebound is an electrolyte solution similar to Pedialyte for kids. It comes in a chicken flavor which most ferrets love and which encourages fluid consumption and helps replace fluids in animals suffering from minor dehydration. All ferret owners should keep Rebound OES in the house at all times. It’s a life saver!
  • Feed often, preferably every 3-4 hours day and night.

Ferrets are notoriously picky eaters and often will not take to eating a new food easily. They are even less likely to do so when introduced to the new food while sick. The best time to feed the foods mentioned above is BEFORE they get sick. Make up a large batch of the Duck Soup and freeze in ice cube trays. Individual cubes can be removed, thawed or microwaved to thaw, and fed several times a week as a special treat. The same can be done with Rebound.

To feed a sick ferret who is refusing to eat, a bit of force feeding may be needed. Dab your finger in the food and rub inside the ferrets mouth. Continue to do this until at least a tablespoon of food had been fed, or whatever amount your doctor recommends. Ferrets will fight the feeding at first, but most will soon begin eating the new food on their own once they’ve tasted it several times and found it tasty.

Syringe feeding of food and fluids is sometimes necessary, but requires extra care to prevent fluid from entering the ferrets lungs which can lead to pneumonia or infection. When feeding by syringe it’s best to place the tip toward the front or side of the mouth. Place a drop or two of food into the mouth at a time and give the ferret a chance to swallow on their own.

Symptoms of Dehydration

If you have more than one ferret, it can be nearly impossible to determine how much each animal is eating and drinking unless you are able to be near them constantly, which most people aren’t.

Instead you may need to watch for these symptoms which indicate dehydration:

  • Open the ferrets mouth and check his gums. The gums should be moist and slippery to the touch, just like a humans, not dry and sticky.
  • Pinch the back of their neck and pull up, similar to what you would do when scruffing, to see how quickly the skin snaps back into place. When dehydrated, the skin goes back into place very slowly.

If signs are found of dehydration it’s time to see your veterinarian. Once a ferret is very dehydrated he cannot drink enough liquid to solve the problem and will likely need intravenous fluids administered.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Armena October 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm

That’s raelly shrewd! Good to see the logic set out so well.

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amy brockman October 22, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Armena, thanks for the comment. It’s wonderful to get comments and know someone found our information helpful. Please visit again.

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